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3/02/2005

The Right's Assault on Professionalism

Strong, yet seldom connected, practices of the modern pseudo-conservative movement have been criticized on many fronts: their treatment of journalists, their treatment of scientists, their treatment of educators, their treatment of lawyers, their treatment of intelligence professionals, their treatment of professional civil servants, even their treatment of doctors. These targets of conservative opprobrium have each been attacked in different ways - the creation of micro-regulations that punish teachers, the injection of politics into the scientific community, the vilification of the legal profession and journalists, the legislative control of which medical treatments a doctor can offer. But there is a common theme: each of the targets is a profession.

This strongly suggests that the basis for pseudo-conservative hostility is not anything particular to the fields in which these professionals work, but to the very concept of professionalism.

Which makes sense. The core of the concept of professionalism is that a person can, by agreeing to constrain themselves by rules of conduct, advance a greater interest - a common good. Pseudo conservatives reject this idea. They believe that it is impossible to constrain ones' passions with rules, that personal biases are inevitably injected into every decision. They believe that one can never strengthen their position by agreeing to constraints. They believe that there is no "greater good" to be advanced by working in well-designed systems and institutions. In short, they reject all of the foundational assumptions underpinning the idea of professionalism.

Look at the media. The media profession is founded on an assumption about the ability of reporters to set aside their personal beliefs in a search for objective truth. It is founded on an assumption that following a set of reportorial procedures will increase the likelihood of discovering that objective truth. It is founded on the assumption that the public has a powerful interest in being informed of objective truths. Pseudoconservatives reject each of these assumptions. They have believed, at least since Nixon, if not before, that reporters intentionally interject their personal political views into their reporting, that "liberal media bias" can be proven by things like the voting records of journalists. They look at reportorial practices and see not a system for reliably arriving at truth, but an opportunity for bad-faith exploitation. They pay "journalists," elevate prostitutes into the rarified White House press corp, and attempt to manipulate the media's ethic of impartiality at every turn. They reject the idea that "truth" exists, attempting to replace reporters' professional and objective practices with "fair and balanced" reporting that emphasizes controversy and wordsmithing, without resolution. And they reject the idea that the public has a legitimate interest in reliable information. They shamelessly promote dis and misinformation, always in service of their agenda.

Scientists are attacked if they find evidence of global warming. They are attacked if they reject the profoundly unscientific concepts of divine design. They are attacked if they honestly report findings of well designed studies. And they aren't just attacked. They are replaced on advisory committees, blackballed from federal funding, and personally retaliated against. Hacks from industry (including the religious industry) and shills from diploma mills are elevated in their stead.

Lawyers perhaps face the broadest attacks, as the very idea of law has been under assault since the 60s, but never more so than following Bush v. Gore. The ABA's certification process for judges has been replaced by the Federalist Society and pseudoconservative fellow travelers, resulting in judicial nominees that display an alarming disdain for professional norms. The adversarial system is attacked with apocryphal anecdotes and misinformation, always to protect major conservative constituencies, whether it be homebuilders, insurance companies, or the general business community. Settled law on torture is discarded as "quaint."

Intelligence professionals are ridiculed for following the practices of their profession, for trying to report reality rather than the president's agenda. The civil service system is labeled an obstacle to national security, an impediment to Presidential flexibility. University professors are labeled fifth columnists, and pseudo-conservatives embrace affirmative action for disseminators of bad ideas. Elementary and secondary educators are denied curriculum control and discretion, forced to teach to the test. Doctors are told that medically necessary procedures are sins against God.

Again, all of this makes sense. Pseudoconservatives have an incredibly simple conception of power, entirely driven by their desire to realize their personal passions. In their Straussian fervor, the ends always justify the means - ideologically rejecting the reality that agreeing to principles of action can advance certain ends. It all comes down to power. Pseudoconservatives want it, and they don't want it to be mediated by anything. Especially not principles that might prevent them from indulging in their short-sighted, counterproductive passions.

This little rant was inspired by Eric Boehlert's article on the press, Michiko Kakutani's review of Ari Fleischer's book, and Chris Mooney's work generally.

 

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